2014 Budget Review Wrap Up

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Thank you to everyone who shared thoughts about budget priorities this fall. At its best the City budget is a reflection of our priorities and, often, our compromises with each other as we determine how to spend a finite amount of money.

Yesterday we took final votes on the City budget for 2014. When you combine the time the departments and the Mayor spent building a proposal and the time Council spent seeking public feedback coupled with staff work sizing up the proposals, this is the culmination of more than six months of work.

While the budget includes operations and capital spending over the two utilities (Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities) we spend most of our time talking about how to allocate the General Fund. This is the spending on the every day, basics of local government like police, fire, parks, a portion of human services (e.g., food, shelter, domestic violence prevention), a portion of libraries, the Neighborhood Matching Fund, neighborhood plan updates, P-Patches, and more.

After several years of cuts and dipping into the reserves, we’ve returned to a budget without layoffs or cuts included in the final balancing package. It’s not like we’re rolling in extra revenue, but we now have sufficient, predictable revenue for next year to ensure that we’re back in the business of hiring police officers, boosting maintenance spending in parks and at Seattle Center, and boosting the spending on road maintenance and construction for safer cycling and walking in the city.

This is great news.

Even better news – based on your emails and compelling public testimony at the two public hearings on the budget, we revised the Mayor’s proposal to better focus the dollars we’re spending on public safety, pre-K education, and moving families out of homelessness. Rather than go through a long list of what we added and changed (you can find that here, though, if you’re interested), I’m going to mention a few of the items that received greatest notice from emailers, callers and the public testimony of advocates.

Shelter for Homeless Young Adults
“Together with other members of my synagogue, Temple Beth Am, I have for almost 20 years volunteered at Orion Center to provide dinners for the youth that are in need.  The numbers have swelled over the years so that today at a typical dinner we are providing nourishing food for over 60 youth and I can only guess how many of those young people need a bed for the night — a safe space where they can take a shower and sleep peacefully.” –Diane, via email

YouthCare operates a third of the shelter beds (20 out of 60) available for young adults ages 18-24 in Seattle.  Their private foundation grant for those shelter beds is coming to an end early in 2014, and without replacement funding, young adults wouldn’t have access to a safe place to sleep at YouthCare’s Orion Center. Council worked with the King County to make sure that we could fill the funding gap and keep young adult shelter beds open.  Thanks to this collaborative work and your advocacy, shelter beds will remain open and young people will be able to connect with the other great resources at YouthCare such as employment assistance, school, health care, and support towards finding permanent housing.

Public Safety
“As the Executive Director of an organization that works to prevent human trafficking, I am extremely concerned about the safety of the downtown corridor, especially for children and runaway youth who can be recruited by a trafficker within 45 min of arriving in Westlake Park.” – Mar, via email

A large number of the budget e-mails I received this year have been from downtown residents, workers and visitors asking that we address public safety – the feel and the reality — Downtown. The Mayor’s proposal included money to get us back on track for increasing the number of officers on patrol in the city (though it will take a few years still to actually increase patrol numbers due to training time). In addition, the budget this year expands the LEAD program – law enforcement assisted diversion – throughout Downtown neighborhoods.  LEAD has been offered by police officers in Belltown under certain conditions (non-violent offenses only) as an alternative to arrest for people who frankly need treatment, services and housing more than anything jail can provide.  Instead of the trip to jail, the alleged offender immediately connects with treatment, case management and support. The goal is establishing an effective connection that leads them away from crime.

Seattle Animal Shelter
“A well-staffed, healthy shelter serves our city in so many ways….it keeps unwanted animals off the street, and it places them in the homes of people who will love them as a part of their family.” – Pamela, via email.

Puppies are an easy sell, right? Unfortunately, Seattle Animal Shelter staffing took hard cuts in the recession and those cuts have been evident to anyone who has tried to report an injured or stray animal. Officers and staff do a great job, but there have been too few to respond as effectively as our city requires.  Supporting the Seattle Animal Shelter is crucial for public health and safety, and the mental health and well-being of individuals and families who benefit from animals in their lives.  We added additional staffing support to keep animals in the animal shelter safe and healthy.

Startup Seattle
“We need your support in the effort to attract more talent, more entrepreneurs and more awareness that Seattle is the best place to startup.”  –Spencer, via email

This one was a “save” rather than an “add.” Several councilmembers had good, tough questions about why local government should spend money to support an industry that seems to have a lot of capital available to it. I advocated for (and we kept in the budget) Startup Seattle because we are competing with other cities for talent and capital. I think the City can play a role keeping us competitive.

There are plenty of other things worth mentioning in the budget that will go a long way towards helping people in Seattle.  Some are on the small and odd side (we’re supporting “fruit gleaning” so the fruit from trees on City property will go to food banks rather than waste).  Some are on the large and long-range change side (we’ll spend money in 2014 to figure out exactly how you re-shape a totally fragmented pre-K education network into something universally available, affordable, and high quality preschool for all children). Some have to do with big infrastructure we all own (we passed a budget proviso (a padlock of sorts on future spending) requiring a thoughtful plan be brought to Council for revamping the Lakewood and Leschi Marinas in a way that involves the community of boaters at the two marinas and the surrounding communities of neighbors, and we’re accelerating design of a Downtown cycle track so bike commuters who come into and out of Downtown can ride out of car traffic).

This gives you a sense of the breadth of subjects we reviewed in our budget work this fall. Please know this is not a comprehensive list of what we debated. If I’ve not mentioned the item you care most about – and you can’t find it in the list from the link above – please shoot me an email and we’ll dig into your question.